Aseptic Meningitis

WHAT IS ASEPTIC MENINGITIS?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord. When the infection is caused by bacteria, it is called bacterial meningitis but when it is not caused by bacteria, it is known as aseptic meningitis.

Most cases of aseptic meningitis are caused by viruses and this is why aseptic meningitis is mostly referred to as viral meningitis. Aseptic meningitis is seen more commonly than bacterial meningitis although the symptoms associated with it are not so severe. Resulting complications of infection are not also common. Recovery for a greater number of people occurs within two weeks from when symptoms appeared.

Aseptic meningitis
Photo Credit: Medical News Today

CAUSES OF ASEPTIC MENINGITIS

Very common cases of aseptic meningitis are caused by seasonal viruses in early fall and late summer and this is so for about half of the cases. The following viruses are implicated in the causation of aseptic meningitis:

  • Chickenpox
  • HIV
  • Herpes simplex
  • Mumps
  • Measles
  • West Nile
  • Rabies

The mode of transmission of these viruses is through contact with the cough, saliva or fecal matter of an infected person. Some of them are also transmitted through the bite from a mosquito.

Very rarely, some other conditions can cause aseptic meningitis to develop and they include:

  • Fungal infection
  • Syphilis
  • Lyme’s disease
  • Allergy to a drug
  • Inflammatory  diseases

Aseptic meningitis can occur suddenly or even insidiously over some weeks based on the causative agent of the condition.

RISK FACTORS FOR ASEPTIC MENINGITIS

Those who are at a greater risk of developing aseptic meningitis are children less than the age of 5. The vaccines that are normally used as preventive measures for bacterial meningitis do not work for aseptic meningitis which is caused by viruses and other microorganisms.

Amongst children, those of them who attend school or day care centers stand an increased risk of developing aseptic meningitis from contact with a virus. Adults are also at risk once they work in such environment.

Meningitis also develops when the immune system grows weak due to the presence of some diseases such as AIDS or diabetes.

SYMPTOMS OF ASEPTIC MENINGITIS

The symptoms of aseptic meningitis are not the same for everyone. The symptoms that manifest depend on the causative agent or condition. Sometimes, the condition is asymptomatic until the infection progresses. The general symptoms that are seen in both children and adults include:

Infants and toddlers also show the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Irritability or crying frequently
  • Poor eating
  • Sleeping too much or difficulty in waking after sleeping

Most viral infections are self-limiting and usually do not require treatment. This is the case in aseptic meningitis as the majority of cases are mild and recovery can occur even without having treatment. The symptoms of A. meningitis are similar to that of flu and this ends up masking the condition as one may not be aware of its presence, this is in contrast to bacterial meningitis which presents with very severe symptoms and can be fatal.

Irrespective of this fact, you should still seek treatment if there is a suspicion that either you or your child has A. meningitis. The type of meningitis will be hard to tell if you do not have a medical examination especially in the early phase of the illness. The complications o0f aseptic meningitis can also be severe. Monitoring should be continuous until recovery has occurred.

Speak to a doctor immediately if you or your child has experienced any of the following symptoms

  • Neck stiffness
  • Persistent, debilitating headache
  • Mental confusion
  • Seizures

These symptoms still may be for another condition.

DIAGNOSIS OF ASEPTIC MENINGITIS

If the doctor thinks that you have meningitis, he will order for some tests that will help to tell if it is aseptic or bacterial meningitis.

Most times, the doctor will perform a spinal tap to obtain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the spine. This is the gold standard for diagnosing aseptic meningitis. Cerebrospinal fluid is made by the lateral ventricles of the brain and it surrounds the brain and the spinal cord to protect it. For meningitis to be positive, the protein levels and the white blood cell count are increased. The CSF is also examined for the presence of either bacteria, viruses or other organisms.

Other tests to recognize the virus that caused the meningitis are blood and imaging tests such as X-rays and CT scans.

TREATMENT OF ASEPTIC MENINGITIS

Depending on the cause of meningitis, the treatment varies. Most people make full recovery in one to two weeks without obtaining medical treatment.

You will be advised to rest and also remain well hydrated by drinking plenty water. Medications will also be prescribed for the relief of symptoms. Analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs are also prescribed for the control of pain and fever. If the meningitis was caused by a fungus or by a treatable virus such as herpes, the doctor will prescribe medications to treat it.

LONG TERM OUTLOOK

A very small number of those with this disease finally come down with a long-lasting illness. Most cases get better within 1-2 weeks after appearance of symptoms.

Rarely, this disease can cause brain infections. When you leave the condition untreated, complications are more likely to occur. There can also be complications if you have a condition that makes the immune system weak such as diabetes or AIDS.

PREVENTION OF ASEPTIC MENINGITIS

Vaccination for viruses that cause this disease should be done for both you and your children e.g. chickenpox and mumps. Ensure that you practice and maintain good personal and environmental hygiene as this will lower the chances of developing this disease. Hand-washing before and after meals and when you use the restroom is recommended for both you and your children. Cover your mouth before sneezing or coughing.  Do not share food or drinks with other people especially in a group gathering.

Always rest, eat healthy and avoid contact with people who have symptoms of flu or cold.

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